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Opposition Walks as Graft Law Passes

Sixteen lawmakers of the opposition walked out of session Thursday, as the National Assembly passed an anti-corruption law that critics warn will not do the job of tackling graft.

The law passed with a vote of 82 ruling party lawmakers, as members of both the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties refused to vote.

Sam Rainsy Party members tried to debate the law, which they see as inadequate, on Wednesday, but three Human Rights Party lawmakers boycotted the entire special session.

Members of the Cambodian People’s Party touted the law and its importance to the country, while critics warned it will not effectively fight the corruption donor countries have railed against for years.

“We are very happy for the passage [of the law] and thank the National Assembly,” Cabinet Minister Sok An said after the vote. “This is the product of a long process. It is a new law, a special law, a sensitive law and a very important law for our whole nation.”

Sok An called the law “a new tool to strengthen the existing anti-corruption unit.”

“When this law comes into force, the anti-corruption unit will become a sharper, more effective tool to fight against corruption,” he said.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, told reporters as he left the Assembly Thursday morning, “We are very disappointed that the National Assembly did not amend some articles as requested by the opposition.”

“We don’t believe this law can be implemented effectively against corruption,” he said. “This law is just to cover up wrongful acts by a corrupt government. And I understand that the anti-corruption law will become a law to protect corruption.”

Lawmakers made no change to the bill as drafted by the Council of Ministers, despite calls from opposition and rights group to create a more independent Anti-Corruption Council and government anti-corruption unit.

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said he regretted the Assembly had not heeded any recommendations from rights groups.

“But we have no power to push the National Assembly,” he said.

If the new law proves incapable of curbing graft and corruption, he said, “the government and the National Assembly will be responsible to the whole nation.”